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Sierra Leone 2000

Doug's Update on his Sierra Leone Update . . .

13 October, 2000
South African Institute of International Affairs
Johannesburg, South Africa

To my PMCs discussion group, AMPMlist, friends of Sierra Leone and friends in general:

I returned to Joburg from Sierra Leone yesterday morning after a very, very fun and interesting visit.  Many, many thanks to everyone who helped with my trip, providing names, information, lodging and transportation.  And a special thanks to those people in Sierra Leone who went out of their way for me and made my visit so phenomenally useful!

I originally intended to stay in Sierra Leone less than 10 days, but I ended up extending my visit to 17 days.  I could have stayed much, much longer, as there are still lots of people I’d be keen to meet with and talk to.  Nevertheless, I feel I am much better informed as a result of my trip.

I thought I would go back to my “initial impressions” post that I sent out 28 September and provide a quick update to those impressions.

>  1. Military situation is dire.  RUF is better trained and equipped, and has
>  many more Liberians working with it than ever before.  This is especially
>  true in the diamond areas where there are reports (and rumors) of
> helicopters flying in supplies and weapons from Liberia and also of freelance
> mercenaries (South Africans, Israelis, Ukrainians and even an American) doing training.
>  The RUF is likely to start an offensive in a month or so when the dry season
>  kicks in.

This remains essentially my opinion on this issue.  Charles Taylor may focus the RUF’s efforts more on Guinea, which would offer Freetown a respite, but the RUF really doesn’t have to worry about its flanks.  The UN ain’t going to do anything, and while the Brits have trained 3,000 SL Army and will be training another 3,000, no one that I talked to (Brits included) has much faith in these guys being able to substantially impact on the military situation.  The Kamajors/CDF can continue to hold their parts of the country, but would need help to push the RUF to any serious degree.

>  2. No one I've talked to has faith in the UN's military capabilities.  The
>  Indians have the best reputation, and they're planning on pulling out.  Lots
>  of backroom dealing going on so no one knows what the true motivations are
> of the various UN battalions.

The more I talked to UN people, the more I wonder if the organization has a plan for Sierra Leone at all.  The frustration among UN personnel is enormous.  The UN may be waiting until the mandate comes up for renewal in December to make any hard decisions on the fate of UNAMSIL.  Even then I doubt they have any clear ideas of what they can do to help Sierra Leone.

Some 80-90% of UNAMSIL soldiers are based in the Freetown area.  The Sierra Leoneans are terribly frustrated that the UN soldiers refuse to confront the RUF, even when a situation is clearly within the UN mandate.  It is understandable that the different UN military units are keen to avoid getting involved in a shooting conflict, and simply want to get back to their home countries safely.  But the result is that human rights violations, rape and robbery continue to occur in the country with UN forces do absolutely nothing to stop them.  Several Sierra Leoneans pointed out to me that it is not a question of mandate strength, 90% of the problems can be dealt with robustly under the current “Chapter 6 ½” mandate.  It is just that no UNAMSIL military unit wants to become involved in a direct confrontation that could lead to taking casualties.

The UN HQ at the Mammy Yoko hotel looks virtually permanent, and the operation seems to be designed for the “long haul”.  If nothing else changes, I think this could lead to a de facto separation of the country between the RUF and the government forces.  Frankly, unless substantive changes happen soon, I could see the conflict continuing for another five to ten years with no substantial changes to the current situation.  The UN could live with this; it would be a catastrophe for Sierra Leone!

The UN still wants to increase troop strength to 20,500 (from the current level of 13,500), but I couldn’t find anyone who could tell me what the hell these extra troops would do.  The size of the mission overall is just astonishing.  Nevertheless, it is hard to say exactly what positive effects UNAMSIL is having at all, except for a nice boost to the Freetown economy, especially the sex trade (with so many thousands of idle young men from all over the world in the country, I shudder to think what the HIV/AIDS rate in Sierra Leone will be like in five years).  There are literally dozens of UN aid organizations with offices in Freetown, and they all seem quite busy, but as long as the war continues it is hard to tell how much of a positive impact their efforts will have.

Never have so many done so little with so much.

>  3. Almost everyone I've talked to believe the charges against the Nigerian
>  ECOMOG generals regarding the diamond deals with the RUF are largely true.
>  Few have any faith in Nigerian military abilities at this point.  The
>  corruption among the Nigerian officers has also rotted the will of the
>  soldiers, who at one time proved they were able to take on the RUF.
> Opinions now vary as to whether they could thwart another RUF offensive on Freetown,
>  but generally the feeling is they could not.

While some people supported the American training efforts of ECOMOG troops in Nigeria, few thought these efforts would bear any fruit in Sierra Leone.  Someone told me the first US-trained Nigerian troops are supposed to arrive in Sierra Leone before the end of the year.  I haven’t found out what the plans are exactly on this, if anyone has some hard information I would appreciate hearing from them.

>  4. The Kamajors/CDF have been growing in strength, and they have declared
>  their support for the Kabbah government on a number of occasions.  They may
>  be the only truly effective ground forces the government controls.  However,
>  some Sierra Leoneans are questioning if they aren't building an agenda of
>  their own.  It is significant that the British have focused their training
>  efforts on the unreliable Sierra Leone army rather than the seemingly more
>  loyal Kamajors.

The Kamajors are clearly growing stronger and doing more training (not always with the full knowledge of the Kabbah government!).  The Brits I’ve subsequently talked to made it clear that they were not about to help or train the Kamajors, even if it means they must rely on the SLA.  While the Brits don’t doubt the willingness of the Kamajors to take on the RUF (which is an unusual enough trait in SL!), they do wonder about their ultimate loyalty and willingness to be subordinated to the democratic SL government.

>  5. The Brits are doing their best to rapidly train Sierra Leone's military,
>  but they seem realistic about it.  No one seems to know which side the SL
>  soldiers were on yesterday, are on today, or will be on tomorrow.  Stories
>  abound of army officers in the retrained units stealing rations and
>  abandoning their troops, who then wander away.  The Brits do seem to be
> doing a good job of making sure that the soldiers don't take their weapons when
>  they disappear.

I’ve subsequently met quite a few of the British contingent in Sierra Leone, and again I’d like to emphasize their overall effort in the country is excellent.  They have had medium and long term reform projects and programs working for several years, in the police, legal system, military organization, media reform, parliamentary reform and so on.  They have made a greater (and more effective!!!) military commitment to Sierra Leone than any other country, and they are clearly doing what the UN should be doing, and at a fraction of the price.  If the Americans really, really want to help Sierra Leone they would fund the Brits and not the UN.

Unfortunately the Brits are scrambling for a short-term answer for Sierra Leone’s conflict.  The training of the SLA is very much of a stop-gap affair that has only been working since the May UN fiasco.  Political pressure in Britain means that British troops will be avoiding combat.  Few doubt the Brits could work with the SLA and clear out the RUF in short order, but that ain’t going to happen, and the SLA can’t do it themselves.  Britain’s elaborate efforts in Sierra Leone could be wasted if the conflict isn’t ended sooner, rather than later.

The Brits are much loved by the Sierra Leoneans, who have a rather (unfounded . . .?) confidence that the British will save them no matter what.  The Americans are much more “hands-off” in Sierra Leone, preferring to let the British handle everything, but not giving much financial support to the operation.  There are quite a few American NGOs and private companies doing good work.  PAE is there in a big way, and ICI is providing critical transport in a country where helicopters protected by armed personnel are essential for getting aid to some areas.  Even many of the otherwise peacenik NGOs use them since no one else will go to those areas.

>  6. Off the record (and a few ON the record) almost ALL the people I've
> talked to have been talking about utilizing PMCs, there is a recognition that the
> UN just can't do the job militarily, and that the RUF is not about to negotiate.
>   Desperation seems to focus minds . . .

Let me be clear on this.  After talking to scores of Sierra Leoneans, in government, in civil society, in taxis and busses and cafes:


It is not just a case of desperation; I was frankly astonished at the widespread support for the company.  Other companies would be ok as well of course, but Sierra Leoneons KNOW what EO did.  People in the street tended to refer to them simply as “the South Africans”.  Leoneans from the Kono region were the most supportive of the company, and almost all had their near-legendary stories about EO’s effectiveness and professionalism.  Most made the connection between EO and the diamonds, but many said that it was a fair trade for the peace and security the company provided.  One woman in civil society suggested that EO be given control of the entire Kono region for 50 years in return for peace and security for the whole country.

What was particularly surprising for me was that while I have been a big advocate of the idea of using PMCs in Sierra Leone, I had the impression from others in academia that there is little support for the idea from Sierra Leoneans.  Or that EO did not do a good job in Sierra Leone, or that the company was resented or hated by the population.  EO had its problems, but the company did a very, very good thing in Sierra Leone, and people there know this as a fact.

When you compare and contrast the UN efforts and costs and results and with EO’s . . .  well it is no wonder that Sierra Leoneans know how to end their conflict.  If UNAMSIL continues the way it’s going we could easily see the war last another decade.  If a PMC were brought in the war would be over in 12 months.  This ain’t idle musings.

The last time Sierra Leone had free elections and a semblance of peace was when EO was providing the security.  It is at the point where we know how to quickly end the war, the killing, the rape in Sierra Leone.  The British are doing great work, but they are not going to end the war.  Even with the American training the Nigerians can’t end the war.  And judging by current UN statements and efforts, and despite their best intentions, the UN is more likely to extend the conflict than end it.  The refusal to contemplate the use of PMCs in Sierra Leone has cost tens of thousands of Sierra Leoneans their lives, isn’t it about time to reconsider the issue?

By chance there was a “Just Mining” conference that took place while I was in Sierra Leone sponsored by The Network Movement for Justice and Development in collaboration with the Civil Society Movement of Sierra Leone.  At the end of this email I’ve copied the final press release.  Note the very first section of their final resolution.

>  7. Sierra Leone's Air Wing, which is to say 1.5 Mi-24 helicopters piloted by
>  South Africans with truly international crews, have done more good than the
>  UN forces.

I don’t think I can add to this, except to say that just about ANYONE could do more good than UNAMSIL.  The Air Wing is the single most effective military unit in Sierra Leone.  Give it 500 first-rate ground troops and the conflict can be ended.

>  8. Traffic jams in Freetown are generally caused by the multitudes of
>  military road blocks and largely consist of brand-new all-white UN SUVs.

The joke in Sierra Leone is that the extra 6,000 UNAMSIL troops are required to put road blocks up on the few streets in Freetown that are not yet blessed.

If you haven’t checked out the Sierra Leone photos on my web page ( - or Carlos Ortiz kindly set up a direct forward from you might want to take a look.  It is a gorgeous country with some remarkable people living and working there.  I have some more photos to add which I will try to get to in the next week or so, though things are pretty hectic just now.

I would be very keen to hear people’s comments on my perceptions – especially from those people who disagree with me.  I am working on a couple of big reports now, so the sooner I hear from people the better.



Doug Brooks
Bradlow Fellow

South African Institute of International Affairs
PO Box 31596
Braamfontein 2017
South Africa

Cell: 083-961-5791
Ph : (27-11) 339-2021
Fax: (27-11) 339-2154
Home: (27-11) 447-7080
Home Page:



11th October,2000


The Network Movement for Justice and Development in collaboration with the Civil Society Movement of Sierra Leone fully support the resolutions reached at the national consultative conference on mining, held at the sierra Leone Bank complex on the 29th and 30th of September, where they reached the following conclusions:

1. Security:
I. With immediate effect to clear/liberate the diamond mining areas of rebels through e.g. private security firms
II. Ban mining (diamond) in Sierra Leone for at least 5 years
III. Declare UN trusteeship over diamond mining areas

2. The Role of Government in Mining:
I. Liberation of mining areas now occupied by rebels
II. Foreigners must be removed from mining areas and definition of citizenship reviewed to be by birth and not by ownership of Sierra Leonean passport
III. Stringent control of border areas by dedicated and motivated security personnel
IV. To ensure a policy of national reserve for mineral resources
V. Mining to be entrusted in the hands of a few credible local and international companies with alluvial mining being restricted to Sierra Leoneans
VI. Educate local communities about environmental issues in mining
VII. To encourage De Beers and other credible international mining companies e.g. Rapaport to open an office in Sierra Leone
VIII. Re-introduce the permit system for residents in mining areas
IX. Licenses, taxes and royalties should be made competitive with other countries
X. 10% government royalties to be allocated to communities for community development programmes
XI. Provide financing mechanism and support for mining cooperatives

3. Mining and the Environment:
I. The current clause in the mining policy relating to the environment be maintained
II. To ensure the rehabilitation of mining areas before, during and after every mining activity
III. All mechanisms and structures relating to mining should have qualified environmentalists
IV. Mining companies and miners to rehabilitate mine out sites after mining activity

4. Generating and Distributing  Mining Revenue:
I. The management of large scale companies must involve at least 50% Sierra Leonean nationals
II. More information and transparency in the mining industry
III. Provision of social amenities e.g. health centres/hospitals, water systems, schools (scholarships), bridges, recreational centres etc. before mining commences

5. The Role of Local Communities
I. Promote cultural revival and education in communities and schools respectively
II. Educate the community about environmental issues
III. To monitor the implementation of mining policies and operations of mining companies
IV. Ensure that proper environmental impact assessment is done, terms of mining is negotiated openly with all stakeholders involved and consensus arrived at before mining should start
V. Organize and operate community mining cooperatives

6. The Role of Civil Society
I. To ensure that local communities and civil society's active involvement in mining policy formulation, implementation and monitoring/evaluation is evident.
II. Civil Society to ensure their representation in the management of the GGDO
III. Civil society should network with international partners in order to build the technical knowledge/capacity of the Task Force on mining issues
IV. To ensure that the resolutions from this National Consultative Conference are implemented and followed through at all levels

7.    Cultural Aspects
I. Mining companies to accord respect to community shrines,
Society bushes and other cultural related issues
 II.  Selective mining and planning of mining sites

8. International Dimension
I. The Security Council to establish stronger links with and give support to the Sierra Leone civil society groups especially working on the "Just Mining Campaign". They should be invited to represent the country and make positions on the mining situation.
II. The Embargo on Conflict Diamonds should be imposed simultaneously on Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast and Burkina Fasso.
III. All countries and people implicated in the Sierra Leone diamond saga must be thoroughly investigated and brought to book.
IV. The capacity of civil society must be enhanced/built to help transform the mining sector.

Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD)
18, Big Waterloo Street-Freetown, Sierra Leone, West Africa.
Tel: 232-22.223378/229937 Fax: 232-22.225486

If you have comments, suggestions, death threats or job offers, email me at

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